In the first On the Rush of 2011 we examine some of the top performances at the World Juniors earlier this month and how some of those players have responded since returning to their respective teams. We also look at several high-profile rookies in the NHL and several others looking to go pro in the near future.
Leading the Rush
North American Pro:
From early on in the 2010-11 season Brad Thiessen has been among the best goaltenders in the AHL. He leads all goaltenders in wins with 18, all the more impressive considering he has started only 24 games, splitting the duties with veteran John Curry. His .916 save percentage is 10th among goaltenders who have started 20 or more games and his 2.15 goals against average ranks fifth by that same measure. Thiessen has also recorded three shutouts.
What makes the 24-year-old goaltender unique is his calm demeanor, ability to read plays, and communicate with the young defense in front of him. The Baby Pens are the top team in the AHL by an eleven point margin and boast one of the best defenses in the league, while some of this is due to a physical and stifling puck-possession game they play, much of it is also due to the steady play the second-year netminder has been able to provide for a young team.
It is impossible to understate the role that Cam Fowler has played on the Anaheim blue line this season. At just 19 years old, the dynamic blueliner averages over 22 minutes per night and ranks among the team’s ice time leaders over the past month. He has scored three goals and 25 points through his first 45 NHL games.
The Michigan-native is a regular on the man advantage alongside veteran Lubomir Visnovsky for the Ducks’ power play that ranks third in the league with a 23 percent success rate. His skating ability and smart play with the puck have been invaluable additions for Anaheim in terms of breaking out of the zone and jumping up in transition. His defensive zone coverage is a work in progress, evidenced by his minus-4 rating in his last four games and team worst minus-14 for the season.
With a goal and six assists in his last eight games, Fowler has covered for his defensive shortcomings by getting on the score sheet. The Ducks, 7-3 so far in January, are still very much in the mix in the crowded Western Conference and will need the young defenseman to continue playing well through the rigorous pro season.
North American Junior:
After a strong outing for Team Canada at the 2011 WJCs, where he posted two goals, one assist, and finished with a 57.4 rating in the faceoff circle, Cizikas returned to Mississauga in early January and has since played some of the best hockey of his career. In the past eight games, he has posted seven goals, four assists, and a plus-six.
Playing mostly on a line with Devante Smith-Pelly (ANH) and Maxim Kitsyn (LAK) Cizikas has at times looked unstoppable in opponents’ ends. He uses his low center to create headaches for defenders playing him along the boards, and is equally capable of creating offense for himself and his linemates.
The Isles have to make a decision whether or not to sign the young center by this off-season, so assuming he remains healthy, expect to see similar type of production from Cizikas for the remainder of 2010-11.
After appearing in only 36 games last year due to a broken foot, Joey Hishon has since justified his first round draft status with an excellent season for Owen Sound. Labeled by many as one of the reaches in the first day of the draft last summer, he ranks sixth overall in the OHL with 64 points through 35 games.
He leads the Attack with 28 goals on the season despite being limited by injury again early on in the season. The creative playmaker has been red hot of late, scoring 22 points in his last 10 games since being cut from Team Canada’s WJC tryout camp. Owen Sound has gone 7-3 in those games and currently holds the Midwest Division lead with a 28-15-0-2 record.
As a smaller forward at 5’10 and 170 pounds, Hishon’s eagerness to battle in the tough areas of the ice may be a detriment against bigger bodies at the pro level. The 19-year-old pivot still brings great offensive instincts to the Owen Sound lineup and maybe the best upside in an Avs forward pipe line short on top six potential.
North American Amateur:
A model of consistency for most of the 2010-11 season, Hagelin posted seven goals and nine assists in his first 16 games. Once the month of December rolled around however, Hagelin elevated his game, posting six goals and 13 assists in his last ten games. Now in his senior year, the 22-year-old leads the Wolverines in almost every category including goals (13), points (35), powerplay markers (5), and a plus-15. He is also serves as the Wolverines’ co-captain alongside Luke Glendening.
When the Swede initially joined Michigan, he was still very much a raw offensive package. Under the tutelage of legendary Wolverines coach Red Berenson, Hagelin developed into a complete two-way forward, capable of contributing in all situations.
Depending on how deep Michigan gets into the playoffs this year, Hagelin could very easily find himself playing for the New York Rangers‘ AHL affiliate as early as the spring.
Perhaps no American forward improved his stock at the World Junior Championships as much as Charlie Coyle. The power forward was one of the United States’ most dangerous skaters throughout the tourney, finishing tied for the team lead with six points in six games. He was one of the squad’s top options at center, winning over 58-percent of his draws, while skating between fellow points leaders Kyle Palmieri (ANH) and Chris Kreider (NYR).
Off the international stage, Coyle has been one of Boston University’s top forwards in his freshman season. The East Weymouth, Massachusetts-native ranks second on the team in scoring with 20 points in 22 games. He has scored two goals and added four assists in five games since returning from the WJC.
The 18-year-old forward may not be long for the college ranks if his play the last few months is any indication. The physicality and offense he could potentially bring to the San Jose lineup in the near future is a scary thought for the rest of the Western Conference.
No player did more to help his stock at the 2011 WJC than Evgeny Kuznetsov. Centering the top line of the gold medal winning Team Russia, Kuznetsov posted four goals and seven assists through seven games and led the entire tournament with 33 shots. More importantly, he was a force each time his skates touched the ice.
In his second season of KHL play, Kuznetsov has been a dynamic force for Traktor, posting 11 goals and 11 assists through 37 games. He is second on the team in goals, assists, and points, and also leads the team with a plus-five rating. The 18-year-old is under contract with Traktor through the 2011-12 season, meaning unless his contract is bought out or he is released from it, he’ll be playing in Russia for one more season.
Another top Russian forward at the World Junior Championships, Vladimir Tarasenko showed why many considered him a top five talent at last summer’s draft. Serving as team captain in his second WJC appearance, the 19-year-old winger tied for the team lead with 11 points and was named one of Russia’s top three players by the coaches.
He is in his third season with his hometown Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL, where he has scored 10 goals and 10 assists in 40 games. His ice time has steadily increased each year and is up over 14 minutes per night this season. He continues to create more chances with the opportunity as well, registering a career-high 128 shots this season.
Tarasenko will return to American soil in the near future, as he plans to make the jump to North America next season within the Blues organization.
Trailing the Play
North American Pro:
It was no surprise that D’Amigo struggled offensively through the first month of the season. The adjustments to the professional level take time to make, especially for a 19-year-old who has only one year of college hockey under his belt. His performance at the 2011 WJCs were something altogether different. One of the few players on Team USA with professional experience, D’Amigo was expected to not only provide leadership to some of his younger teammates but also take advantage of the younger, less experienced competition. Instead it was more of the same story, his effort could not be taken into question but the offense wasn’t there. Through six games he posted a goal, an assist, and registered nine shots on net. Since returning from the WJCs, D’Amigo has laced up in eight games with the Marlies, posting two goals, an assist, and registering 14 shots on goal.
There should not be any rush to judgment regarding the young forward, he plays a determined brand of hockey and should be able to carve out a role in the NHL someday. However, the offensive part of his game may take some time to develop and will likely never match the point-per-game pace he showed in college and playing for the USNTDP.
Magnus Paajarvi has struggled at times, like D’Amigo, to adjust to the size and speed of the pro game. The transition for Paajarvi has had to be made both on and off the ice this season, the Swedish winger’s first in North America. There have also been huge expectations for the Oiler’s "Big Three" prospects to step into top-nine roles and produce immediately. As a primarily offensive forward, the lack of consistency with which he has played led to a nine game scoring drought from late December into early January.
He has stepped up recently with one point in four of his last five games, seeing an increase in ice time because of injuries to the Edmonton forwards. Often skating on the second line with Sam Gagner and Linus Omark, the recent flourish brings Paajarvi’s totals on the season to six goals and 18 points in 44 games.
Paajarvi has shown great playmaking ability and skill with the puck, but he has not been a consistent offensive threat through the first half of the season. Paajarvi will look to produce a little more in the second half as he becomes more comfortable in North America both on the ice and off it.
North American Junior:
A Czech import, Jakub Culek was drafted by the Senators after an impressive debut season in North America, posting 13 goals and 34 assists in 63 games. A nice package of size and skill, Culek was expected to build upon the progress he made in his first season of North American play. Instead, the 18-year-old has run hot and cold all season. In his first eight games, he posted four goals and four assists. He then subsequently went on a 21-game cold streak in which he posted zero goals and only five assists, a span that lasted through half of October and all of November.
Culek was invited to the 2011 WJCs where he represented the Czech Republic. Although expectations for the Czech squad were tempered, Culek did nothing to improve his stock, posting only a goal and an assist through six games. Upon returning to Rimouski, Culek has found himself in familiar territory, registering one assist in the five games since his return.
With six returning forwards from last year’s gold medal team, the United States was in need of contributions from newcomers. Emerson Etem, one of the primary goal-scorers for the WHL‘s Medicine Hat Tigers, was one of the 18-year-olds many predicted might pick up some of the scoring slack in his U20 debut.
The power forward finished with just one goal in six tournament games, despite creating a number of chances with his power and speed. The native of Long Beach, California tied for fifth on the team with 16 shots but was unable to capitalize.
Etem’s junior season has largely been a success. He trails only WHL scoring leader Linden Vey (LAK) on Medicine Hat in goals, registering 27 in 39 games. He bounced back following the WJC with six goals and an three assists in seven January games for Medicine Hat.
The Tigers rank fourth in the Eastern Conference and Etem will continue to play a big role heading into the WHL playoffs. With another shot at the WJC next season, he will certainly be a prospect to watch over the next year.
North American Amateur:
2010-11 was supposed to be the season Brian Day realized the power forward potential he has teased with over the past three seasons. Drafted as a project forward in 2006, Day steadily progressed with Colgate over the past three seasons, increasing his goal and points totals each season. After posting 21 goals and 15 assists in 2009-10, it was expected Day would take on a greater role with Colgate in his senior season.
So far that has not happened. While day leads his team in goals with eight, it’s far off the .617 goals-per-game pace he set last season. His minus-one rating is a far cry from his team-leading plus-11 last season as well. That said, Day appears to gradually be working himself out of his mid-season slump, posting an assist in three of his last four games.
Hopes were high this season for Trevor Nill at Michigan State following a strong sophomore season in which the hard-working forward scored nine points in 26 games. The 6’3 center has gone 18 consecutive games without a point this season, unable to help the team’s sputtering offense. With three of the team’s top four scorers from a year ago gone, the Spartans are among the lowest scoring teams in Division I hockey averaging 2.54 goals per game.
Nill has just three points on the season with the one goal and two assists all coming in the first three games of the season. The 21-year-old has not consistently suited up for the Spartans over the past month and has suffered from inconsistent play when he does get into the lineup.
Michigan State’s offense has emerged of late, putting up 7 goals on CCHA foe Miami January 21st. While the Spartans have won four of their last eight games, the team will need solid, all-around play from depth players like Nill in order to keep games close when not contributing on the score sheet.
Nobody anticipated Sondre Olden to single-handedly win the 2011 WJC for team Norway, nor was even expected to even be the catalyst for a major tournament upset. However, the 18-year-old was the center of Norway‘s offensive attack and was expected to post more than the goose eggs he registered through six games. This on a team that averaged only 1.16 goals per game.
Fortunately for Olden, youth is still very much on his side. At only 18-years-old, he has another year to redeem himself on the international stage. His package of size, skill, and solid two-way play also make him an appealing long-term prospect for the Maple Leafs.
Anton Lander, C – Timra (SEL)
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers
2nd round, 40th overall, 2009
It was a bit of a disappointing result for Sweden‘s WJC entry in Buffalo. The team finished without a medal for the first time in four seasons, suffering medal round losses to the Russians and the Americans.
Anton Lander, Sweden‘s captain, was one of the returning forwards unable to equal last year’s success. The center is known more for his defensive acumen, but still only scored one goal along with three assists in six games after putting up eight points for Sweden a year ago. He was unable to convert as Sweden’s third and final shooter in their tough shootout loss to the Russians.
The 19-year-old pivot has had a solid year for Timra in the Elitserien, serving as an alternate captain for the second straight year. He is tied for sixth on the team in points with eight goals and eight assists in 35 games. The Swede is expected to continue developing at his own pace with Timra where he is already a vital piece in the lineup.
On the Rush was compiled and written by Ian Altenbaugh and Brad Gardner.